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Guidance on Solid Waste Management

Senior urban decision-makers from developing and rapidly-emerging economies face difficult decisions in managing solid waste generated by their cities. Effective solid waste management systems are essential to productive, competitive, healthy and well-functioning cities: Waste can be a source of both earnings and savings in the local economy.

Along with waterways, solid waste is one of two main carriers and propagators of infectious disease in cities and the main host environment for vermin.

Ineffective solid waste management practices make an unfavourable impression on foreign investors and tourists. It may result in both loss of both investment and revenues from these sources.

Typical Solid Waste Management Situations

Waste Collection and Street Sweeping

  • The waste collection service is strugglingto keep the city clean.
  • Not all of the city is covered by the collection service.
  • Waste is accumulating in streets, squatter settlements and blocking drains to become a public health concern.
  • Despite low levels of service, costs are high and form a large share of municipal budget.
  • Quantities of solid waste are growing faster than the city's ability to cope with it.
Waste Disposal
  • Current disposal is by dumping.
  • Existing dumpsites are a concern for political, environmental, public health and safety reasons.
  • Finding new sites is becoming more difficult due to land shortages and opposition.
  • You are told that sanitary landfill is the best way forward but it seems expensive and people object to having sites near them.
  • Many companies claim to have solutions to waste disposal problems but you do not know who to believe


In responding to common solid waste management situations or conditions, decision-makers face the following choices:

  • How to set priorities for scare municipal resources as between solid waste management and other pressing needs, e.g., water supply, health protection, or transport, and within the amount of funds dedicated to solid waste issues.

  • How best to extend solid waste management services to new developments on the fringes of their city, and catch up with needs in existing communities, many of which are currently served only by the informal sector.

  • How to charge residents and businesses, many with very limited resources, for solid waste management services when they have never paid anything, or much before.

  • How to select among different competing technologies for reducing, collecting, disposing of and converting solid waste, and among specific suppliers of solid waste management services in a manner that takes into account the best long-term interests of their city.

  • How to choose between environmental concerns and economic interests when these appear to be in conflict, e.g., when a business threatens to close or to move elsewhere and throw people out of work rather than paying more for solid waste disposal.

Comparing Typical
Solid Waste Management Practices
Activity Low Income Middle Income High Income
Source reduction No organized programs, but reuse and low per capita waste generation rates are common. Some discussion of source reduction, but rarely incorporated into an organized program. Organized education programs now emphasize source reduction and reuse of materials.
Collection Sporadic and inefficient. Service may be limited to high-visibility areas, wealthy households, businesses willing to pay. Improved service and increased collection from residential areas. May have large vehicle fleet and more mechanization. Collection rate greater than 90 percent. Compactor trucks and mechanized vehicles common.
Recycling Most recycling is through informal sector and waste picking. Mainly localized markets and imports of materials for recycling. Informal sector still involved; some advanced sorting and processing facilities; materials often imported for recycling. Recycable material collection, high-technology sorting and processing facilities. Attentive to long-term markets.
Composting Rarely undertaken formally, though waste stream has high proportion of organic content. Opportunity to do more here for economic and environmental gain. Large composting plants generally unsuccessful; some small-scale plants more sustainable. More popular at both backyard and large-scale facilities. Waste stream has smaller portion of compostables than in other economies.
Incineration Not common or successful because of high capital and operating costs, high moisture content and high proportion of inert matter. Some incinerators used, but experiencing financial and operational difficulties; not as common as in high-income economies. Prevalent in areas with high land costs. Most have some environmental controls and some heat recovery system.
Landfilling Low-technology sites, usually open dumping of wastes. Some controlled and sanitary landfills, with some environmental controls. Open dumping still common. Sanitary landfills with a combination of liners, leak detection, leachate collection systems, gas collection/treatment.
Costs Collection costs form 80-90 percent of municipal solid waste management budgets. Waste fees regulated by some local governments, but fee collection may be very inefficient. Collection costs represent 50-80 percent of municipal solid waste management budget. Waste fees regulated by some local and national governments. Innovations in collection are being attempted. Collection costs represent under 10 percent of budget. Large allocations to intermediate waste treatment facilities. Upfront community participation reduces costs and increases options available to waste management planners, e.g., recycling and composting.

Assessing Different
Solid Waste Management Options

Based on extensive research, the World Bank has developed some guidelines to success in planning and implementing solid waste management solutions



Comments on Application

Source reduction

Volume of solid waste is reduced by reducing packaging, disposable products, etc.

Could introduce advanced practices, reducing waste at source. Many sources lie outside individual cities.

Uncontrolled dumping

Controlled application of waste on land.

Low-cost and low-technology solution when land available. Risks in certain circumstances, e.g., to water supply.

Sanitary landfilling

Controlled application of waste on land.

Low-cost and low-technology solution when land available. Risks in certain circumstances, e.g., to water supply.


Biological decomposition of organic matter in waste under controlled conditions.

Needs correct proportion of bio-degradable material in waste. May be expensive where no market for compost. Large decentralised schemes claimed to be unsuccessful.

Multi-material recycling

Complements composting Design products for ready recycling/reuse, sorting by consumers and pick-up by types of materials.

Recycling and reuse already occurs in many countries as a matter of economic necessity.


Controlled burning of waste at high temperatures to reduce its volume; possibility to gain energy from combustion.

High capital cost; requires skilled operation and control. Waste must have high calorific value. Advantage if land not available for landfill.


Biological decomposition of organic matter in waste under controlled conditions to obtain methane and other gases.

High cost and technologically complicated.

Refuse derived fuel

Separation of combustible materials from solid waste to be used for fuel purposes.

Assumes combustible material not separated out. Costs and operational issues not widely known for large-scale operations.


High temperature conversion of organic material in absence of oxygen to obtain combustible by-products.

Capital intensive with high running costs, and technically complex.

Suggestions for Successful
Muncipal Solid Waste Management
Undertake an integrated strategic planning process Rush into investments in new equipment without putting them into a strategic context
Ensure wide support for the planning process and the results Confine consultation to an elite group
Ensure that the target service level is affordable Base choices on what is supposedly the most "advanced" technology, but is affordable only by a minority
Undertake a detailed study of the existing situation Duplicate existing studies
Measure key factors in your city as a basis for decisions Rely on the literature for big decisions
Apply an impartial process to select options on the basis of benefits Sign up with a specific commercial vendor without considering all the options
Do detailed analysis of costs Underestimate costs or overestimate revenues
Separate responsibility for providing the service from day-to-day service deliverable Delegate responsibility for a key public service to the private sector, though they may do day-to-day delivery
Consider private sector delivery as an option Forget the conditions for success: competition, transparency and accountability
Consider different options for user charges to cover the shortfall in revenues Apply user charges without considering the needs of the poor for solid waste management services
Improve performance of collection, sweeping and transport services Buy costly "high-tech" vehicles
Introduce preventative maintenance for vehicles Tolerate a high percentage of vehicles in for service at any one time
Give priority to extending services to unserviced areas Forget about health risks to the whole population of uncollected solid waste

Solid Waste Connect To: How Implications
Land-Use Finding disposal sites. Avoiding old dump sites. Shapes planning and resident response at margins.
Infrastructure Providing transport, energy and water to waste disposal and recycling facilities. Efficiency of waste reduction and disposal.
Buildings Amount of waste generated in construction and future operation. Economic viability of waste reduction and recycling.
Services to Buildings Arranging recycling services. Economic viability of waste reduction and recycling.Efficiency and attractiveness to investors.
Services to People Amount of waste generated as part of providing services. Role in shaping public behaviour and attitudes, e.g., toward informal sector. Success in marketing changes in behaviour that produces volumes of solid waste.

Source: Cities Solution Network 2001 (no longer operational!)
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